Dear Still Water Friends,
I just returned from a retreat in which we practiced metta, or loving-kindness meditation. During every meditation, we brought our attention to our own innate wish for the well-being of ourselves and others. This practice of metta is one that has the capacity to expand our hearts and minds as wide as the sky, creating equanimity, ease, and peace, regardless of our circumstances. Just as the sky is not marred by the clouds that pass through it, our heart-minds can be stable, even as we experience strong and challenging emotions. And the practice of metta helps to create this larger container.
We practice metta by repeating phrases to ourselves during sitting meditation, walking meditation, or really any time at all. The phrases can be as simple as "May I be well, May I be happy, May I live with ease. May my friend be well, may she be happy, may she live with ease…." We start by wishing well to ourselves, and then move on to others for whom it is easy to wish well (friends and benefactors), moving to those we don’t really know well (neutral persons), and on to those for whom it may be challenging to wish well (difficult people). As we practice, we start to really realize how we all — every living being, including ourselves — want to be well and happy, and we all want to live with ease. When we practice metta, we are planting the seeds of intention that will bear the fruit of loving kindness, and make us more aware of our connection to ourselves and to each other.
What I discovered on retreat was that when I was in touch with my own suffering, I naturally did not want anyone else to experience this kind of suffering. I didn’t need to force of pretend to want the best for others, it grew naturally from the practice. The more I touched my own suffering, the more I wished for myself and others to be free from suffering. When I noticed, for example, that I was judging others, when I recalled painful memories, or when I was in physical pain, I recognized my own wish to be free from such suffering. Just as I wish to be free from these particular sufferings, I became aware that all other beings wish to be free from these types of suffering as well.
As a result, I feel more connected to myself and other people in my daily life. I feel the suffering of others more acutely, and when I do, my heart immediately wishes well for them, rather than turning away or avoiding their suffering. My heart is more tender and more vulnerable, and at the same time it is stronger and more clear.
On Thursday, during the last part of our sitting meditation, I will guide us through some metta phrases so that we can experience this practice. We can also practice during the walking meditation as well. And when we gather to share, we can share about how this experience was for us. How did it feel to wish well for ourselves? For others? Do we find more space for loving kindness when we are in touch with our own suffering? How do metta and mindfulness practices affect our ability to care for ourselves and others? And how does loving kindness work in our own particular lives?
I look forward to being with you on Thursday evening.
From "Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness" by Sharon Salzberg
What unites us all as human beings is an urge for happiness, which at heart is a yearning for union, for overcoming our feelings of separateness. We want to feel our identity with something larger than our small selves. We long to be one with our own lives and with each other.
Confidence in our innate potential to be loving human beings empowers the cultivation of metta. Our potential to love is very real and is somehow not destroyed, no matter what we experience: all of the mistakes that we might make, all of the times that we are caught in reaction, all of the times we have caused pain, all of the times we have suffered. Through everything, our potential to love remains intact and pure. Through practicing metta in meditation and in daily life we cultivate this potential. Love joins with our intention, as partners in healing ourselves and our world.